Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Rowling’s work. All OCs mentioned herein belong to me.
Chapter Four Maximilien Rondelet
Man is born free, and everywhere he is in shackles.--Jean Jacques Rousseau
At precisely half-past seven on Thursday evening, Artemisia left her apartments and went to the salon of Madame Crevecoeur. She was unusually nervous about the gathering, having little to no idea what manner of guests she would encounter and what exactly the conversation would entail.
Would the company be much like Monsieur Rondelet, serious, stoic and bespectacled? Artemisia certainly couldn’t picture them as dandies.
She felt decidedly self-conscious about her French, considering that she might have to engage learned philosophers in debate. Over the past two days she had studied the first three pages Rondelet had copied for her. The excerpt hardly served to educate her properly on Rousseau’s work, although she was undeniably fascinated by the Muggle writer.
Hopefully, she wouldn’t make a grand fool of herself.
Madame Crevecoeur’s salon was located at the bottom of a wide staircase, off a ground-floor entrance to the gardens. Artemisia guessed that her hostess must be in high favor, or of some importance to the government. Apartments such as hers were reserved for either the very rich or the very powerful.
A liveried footman admitted her into a small antechamber that was decorated with bowls of fresh roses and gilt-edged chairs. She was asked to wait while Madame was informed of her arrival. It was then that Artemisia really began to worry.
What am I doing here, she thought, completely out of my element, an English ass in a French stable. Surely, I’ll be the laughingstock of Beauxbatons!
She was planning a hasty retreat when the footman returned and told her she was to be received.
“No escape now,” she muttered to herself in English and forced her features into a mask of calm neutrality.
The footman led her through a second door into a drawing room, announcing, “Madamosielle Artemisia Lufkin, secretary to Ambassador Honorius,” as he did so.
And then he stepped aside.
Artemisia was introduced to an elegantly dressed, middle-age woman and her gentleman companion.
The lady rose to her feet immediately and holding out her arms, embraced Artemisia like a daughter.
“Mlle. Lufkin,” she said, pecking her lightly on both cheeks. “What a sincere honor and a pleasure it is.”
“Madame Crevecoeur, I presume?” Artemisia replied, dropping into a bow as the woman moved away.
“Indeed,” Madame replied. “Please allow me to introduce my husband, Monsieur Crevecoeur. He is the French liaison to the Italian Ministry of Magic.” She gestured to the seated gentleman, who stood quickly and bowed.
Artemisia managed a smile.
“And you are already acquainted with dear Maxime,” Madame continued, stepping to the side to reveal Rondelet, who was sitting by the fireplace drinking watered down wine.
“Yes!” Artemisia said, happy to see a familiar face. She approached the lawyer, her smile widening. “I owe much to you, monsieur. Thank you for the pages of Rousseau.”
Rondelet did not meet her eyes, but examined the diluted wine in his glass. “Have you read the entire excerpt?”
“Indeed, nearly five times over.”
“And what is your opinion of Rousseau now, Mlle. Lufkin?” he asked, only to be interrupted by Madame.
“Maxime, can you not wait for my other guests to arrive?” she said, a merry twinkle in her grey eyes. “We shall have plenty of time for talk later. Mlle. Lufkin must get settled. Tell me, my dear, would you care for some refreshment?”
Artemisia’s initial awkwardness and tension soon began to dissipate as she was served some chilled wine and sweet meats. She found an empty chair next to Rondelet and answered Madame’s questions about England.
The company’s favorite subject was Hogwarts, a source of both curiosity and vexation for the French, who had only several small, scattered magical institutions of their own.
“And you study only magic at Hogwarts?” Monsieur Crevecoeur asked after Artemisia had rattled off the standard curriculum of her alma mater.
“Yes,” she replied, somewhat bemused by the obvious question. “What else should a student be taught?”
Monsieur Crevecoeur’s heavy black eyebrows darted upward. “That is a matter for debate,” he said, stretching out one long leg on the carpeted floor, his muscled calf bulging inside a silk stocking.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Artemisia said, addressing her query to Madame.
It was Rondelet, however, who answered.
“He speaks of philosophy, Mlle. Lufkin. And Classics. Law. Art.”
Artemisia glanced at him with narrowed eyes. “Why, those are Muggle subjects.”
“Not entirely,” Madame put in.
“For English wizards they are.” Artemisia sipped her wine thoughtfully. “It is rather unfashionable for Pureblood children to study Muggle arts. I don’t imagine the notion would be particularly popular with many prominent families, including my own.”
“But you read Rousseau.” Rondelet stiffened in his chair and pushed his spectacles onto his forehead. “Is that unfashionable?”
Artemisia considered him for a minute before answering. “It’s not common,” she replied at length with a shrug. “Muggle writers lack an understanding of the world as a whole. They cannot comprehend magic, therefore, they cannot understand our society.”
Monsieur Crevecoeur laughed deeply, the sound like a brass bell in a church tower. “Mlle. Lufkin is not familiar with Rousseau’s theory of the natural man, I take it.”
“I would have thought it common sense!” Rondelet interjected.
“Oh, Maxime,” Madame cajoled. “You cannot expect everyone to be as enlightened as you.”
And then they all laughed, though Artemisia wasn’t entirely amused. Did they think her simple just because she wasn’t familiar with Muggle writers and philosophers? Well, then, she’d certainly show them.
Although, she had to admit, their ideas were…unique.
A short time later they were joined by several more guests. Another couple, Monsieur and Madame Lamont arrived, along with a bachelor named Girard who worked as a naturalist for the French Ministry’s division for the regulation and control of magical creatures. He and Artemisia had a lively discussion regarding the exportation of unicorn tail hair and they both agreed that the newly signed trade agreement was unprecedented.
When the company had been served wine and refreshments, Madame Crevecoeur brought them to order with all the quiet dignity befitting her station.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she said, fan fluttering at her breast, “we are most fortunate to have amongst us Mademoiselle Artemisia Lufkin of Bath. Our Maxime has just introduced her to the writings of Rousseau, an excerpt from Du Contrat Social Ou Principes Du Droit Politique.”
“I wanted very much to get a copy of my own,” Artemisia said, heartily embarrassed by all the fuss, “but the book seems to be in short supply.”
“You could ask Maxime to part with his,” Monsieur Lamont said, “although I’ve heard tell that he sleeps with his copy underneath his pillow.”
Rondelet reddened as the company tittered and Artemisia felt a twinge of sympathy. The Crevecoeur’s guests may indeed be enlightened, but they were no less snobbish than the noodleheads dancing and drinking in the halls.
“Please, do not trouble our Maxime,” Madame implored with all the false earnestness of a pantomime. “I hear he has another speech for us this evening. Maxime, would you care to indulge us?”
Rondelet removed his spectacles for a moment and cleaned the glass with an embroidered handkerchief. “If the company is willing,” he said icily.
“We always are, Maxime,” Madame Lamont insisted.
Artemisia watched Rondelet’s face twitch nervously and again, she smelled oranges on him.
“I should like to hear you speak, Maxime,” she said, dropping all pretense of formality. “You were too brief in the gardens the other day.”
He raised his eyes to her and for an instant, a flicker of appreciation lit their watery green depths.
“Very well,” he said, returning his spectacles to their rightful place and rising. “This speech, as it is, was inspired by my meeting with Mlle. Lufkin. Perhaps she should be flattered.”
“I don’t know” Artemisia replied. “It all depends on what you have to say of me.”
Rondelet, as was his custom, ignored her.
Artemisia couldn’t help but notice the delicate hush that descended over the company. Fans stilled and stirrings ceased. An air of expectant tension spiced the already fragrant air.
Perhaps, even though Rondelet was teased, he was still respected. She at least felt a degree of reverence towards the man, even though he was practically a stranger. He certainly wasn’t charming, nor physically attractive and his movements were stiff and awkward.
But oh, he was fascinating. Arrogant, pedantic and (quite literally) almost blind.
And he was under her skin already.
Artemisia found herself holding her breath as she waited for him to speak.
Rondelet took up an aggressive stance, his hand dividing the air with a cutting gesture.
“With the arrival of Mlle. Lufkin and the goodly Ambassador,” he began, “I have cause to reflect upon the unrighteous disturbance that sundered our fortunes from the English to begin with. Friends, you know I have often spoken of the unnecessary divisions between magical communities, but now I do think the matter is more pressing then ever. We have faced, due to the purely Muggle conflict of the Seven Years War, a departure from reason. Is this age of militaristic value not founded in folly?”
Rondelet paused for a moment and inhaled deeply.
“What society of virtue may we form out of chaos? Is Mlle. Lufkin to return to her native land with no ties having been established at Beauxbatons? Shall Muggles carry on with their wars, while we, those of magical blood, stand idly by? I say now, unto you, that it is possible to live purely and united. What have we gained from secrecy? Have our nations not become more divided? This, yes, this is where the disease of corruption festers--amongst our kings. Have they any knowledge of the people? No. Why has the natural man been abused? Why does he remain shackled to the age of feudal repression? Because he is uneducated…and he is parted from his fellow.”
Once more, he stopped and sucked in his breath, turning to face Artemisia fully.
“Mlle. Lufkin alone is fortunate,” he said, his voice slow and tremulous. “She may return to England and her people with knowledge, with the wisdom that is already being birthed in the American colonies. And she can alter the course of history by endeavoring to live as Rousseau has proscribed. Civic virtue must not be cast away, even though our king would gift us with ignorance.”
After Rondelet’s speech, the rest of the evening carried on with little dramatics. Some of the guests, including Monsieurs Girard and Crevecoeur spoke freely about the writings of Rousseau, although they had not the oratory prowess of the young, country lawyer.
Artemisia, for her part, contributed to the discussion when she could, although she felt ill-equipped to. Surprisingly, Rondelet was the first to leave and he was followed by Girard. Artemisia departed shortly thereafter and was delighted when Madame Crevecoeur invited her back in several days time.
To her great amusement, she had become popular with the company.
When she had said her goodbyes, she let the footman show her out into the hall and was pleased to find Rondelet awaiting her by the staircase. He was standing three steps above her and for the first time, towered over her.
“Were you flattered?” he asked, holding his spectacles close to his dull eyes.
Artemisia smiled warmly, experiencing a faint squirm of excitement when he addressed her directly.
“Yes, you spoke very kindly of me, though I’m not sure I have the means to aspire to such greatness.”
Rondelet sniffed haughtily. “Of course you do. Everyone does. Before I became a lawyer I was poor orphan from a rural province. But education and study earned me a scholarship to a prestigious Parisian institute and now I’ve become a most celebrated defender of the down-trodden.”
Artemisia chuckled to herself. Rondelet did think so highly of himself, but then again, so did she.
“Thank you for inviting me,” she said. “I missed stimulating conversation.”
“I could tell.” For a moment, he removed his spectacles and stared at her plainly. “As it was, you were quite dull in the gardens the other night. Farewell, mademoiselle!”
Artemisia did not flatter herself in believing that Rondelet thought of her often over the next three days. She was shocked, therefore, on Friday evening when a house elf found her in the salon of Camille Dejardins and presented her with a package.
Stifling her curiosity, she waited until both she and Honorius had retired before ripping off the paper.
It was a copy of Rousseau’s Du Contrat Social Ou Principes Du Droit Politique. A note had been tucked between the first pages.
Forgive me, but my hand has tired of copying lengthy passages for your pleasure. I hope this will suffice instead. Perhaps I shall see you in the gardens again? I remain,
Yr. Most Obedient Servant,
That night, when she went to sleep, Artemisia tucked the book under her pillow.
Author’s Note: A shorter chapter, but the previous three were whoppers and like Maxime, my tired hands needed a break from writing. ^_^
Artemisia’s over-the-top infatuation is actually based on the fanatical admiration many Parisian women held for Maximilien Robespierre during the French Revolution. Although he was neither charming, nor handsome and showed little interest in romance, he did have a veritable female fan club that simply adored him. (And, if you haven’t guessed it already, Rondelet is indeed a wizard version of Robespierre.)
In chapter five, Artemisia finds herself inspired by the writings of Rousseau and does some politic wheeling and dealing of her own. Meanwhile, her affection for Rondelet continues to blossom. I hope to have the next installment posted by Friday the 24th.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read. If you have a spare moment, please leave a review. I’d simply love to hear from you. Have a great week!
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